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Consuming content mindlessly has become a large part of our daily lives. Illustration by (c) Reset Fest Inc, Canada

Self-Care

A Digital Detox: Here’s How Social Media Affects Your Hormones

‘I became more aware of how much and how I was spending time on social media.’

“Any free second I would be looking at my Instagram stories or my Facebook homepage and wasting time,” Mumbai-based Prachi Jhaveri, founder of a perfume company, told Re:Set about her social media addiction. “There was no reason for me to go on Instagram.” 

In India, during the COVID-19 lockdown, the average social media usage per person rose from 150 minutes a day to 280 minutes a day, which is an 87% increase.  Prolonged Social media usage has been linked with a rise in depression, an increase in suicide rates amongst teens and preteens, and added stress.

The link between social media and dopamine

Not only is social media affecting our mental well-being, but it could also be affecting our hormones. “We have flight and fight instincts when there is something in our environment that demands vigilance. And we have become hyper-vigilant about our phones [because of constant notifications],” Venika Singhal, a Delhi-based psychologist, told Re:Set. 

“We are not relaxed, specifically in relation to social media. Social media leads to an increase in a stress hormone called cortisol and dopamine.”

A neurotransmitter involved in motivation, mood-boosting, and attention, dopamine is a key factor in social media addiction. It’s the motivating factor when classical conditioning comes into play. Classical conditioning is learning something by associating one behaviour with another. For example, the behaviour of salivation when you smell your favourite pizza is a result of previously experiencing pleasure from when you smelled, tasted, and then enjoyed that pizza. 

“Uploading a photograph online can increase dopamine levels for a short period. Over time, social media can become a quick way for dopamine release which increases the dependency [on it],” Singhal told Re:Set. Even for people who don’t get a lot of likes, uploading a photo after clicking multiple [photos], and putting time and effort into it can release dopamine. 

Is a dopamine detox helpful?  

Using the concept of diets to deal with addiction to social media, people are turning to ‘dopamine fasting’ to dissociate social media with pleasure. 

According to a post by clinical psychologist Cameron Sepah, dopamine fasting “is “taking a break from behaviours that trigger strong amounts of dopamine release, especially in a repeated fashion, [to] allow our brain to recover and restore itself.” The fast involves abstaining from behaviours that would release a lot of the neurotransmitters, such as browsing through Instagram or similar apps that flood you with notifications.

An image of Prachi Jhaveri with a purple background and a light purple banner passing from behind her image.

For Jhaveri, the lack of social interaction due to the COVID-19 meant an increase in her social media usage. Photo courtesy: Prachi Jhaveri

From impulsively shopping because of Instagram ads to constantly thinking about what other people were doing, Jhaveri observed that she was being negatively affected by her social media habits, and took a 10-day dopamine detox.

“After I finished [dopamine fasting], I became more aware of how much and how I was spending time on social media.” 

Jhaveri logged out of all her social media profiles from all devices to ensure that even if she clicked on the app out of habit, she wouldn’t go back to scrolling.

Her biggest challenge after the detox has been the pressure to continue controlling how she uses social media without going overboard.

“I wanted to immediately scroll through my social media pages, but I also didn’t want to,” Jhaveri refdlecte. As a result of her experiment, she feels that she now has more control over her screentime.  

Tips to reduce your social media consumption

Taking on a complete dopamine detox may seem difficult, and in Singhal’s opinion, it may be an extreme step. If you’d like to be mindful of your social media use without going on a full detox, we asked Singhal for a list of sustainable steps that you can take:

  • Consider the situation and nature of your work. First, understand why you need social media; is it primarily for work or pleasure?
  • Limit the number of hours and days you spend on social media,
  • Gradually reduce the number of hours you spend on social platforms instead of shutting it completely,
  • Schedule your social media usage beforehand,
  • Check what you use social media for and then look for substitutes. For instance, if you go to Twitter to find your news, find a trustworthy source of information instead,
  • Find a partner that you trust who can join you or support you through your journey,
  • Use apps like Cold Turkey that block your social media usage. 

Also read: How COVID-19 Will Change India’s Mental Health Landscape


 

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A Digital Detox: Here’s How Social Media Affects Your Hormones